THAT’S the universal rule that has yet to be disputed. It applies to almost everything around us and that includes even our garden or “extended” garden in our home.

I love to plant but am sometimes distracted by the choices before me – ornamental or edible garden. These two options are hard to marry in a small terrace house garden. Attempting both will probably land up in disaster, turning my garden into a “rojak” which may not look pleasant to the eyes especially to my neighbours’ eyes. And that is where the problem starts.

Somewhere in that small little patch I call a garden, I would like a fruit tree; perhaps a mango or rambutan tree. But it doesn’t quite fit into the scheme of things in the small patch. What do I do? Ahhhh….I plant it on the small green patch in front of my house beside the road. While at first the tree looks manageable, we forget that it will grow and grow it will into a big tree.

Assuming the tree bears fruits, it will give me fruits to enjoy and the extras perhaps can be shared with my neighbours. But what happens if the tree is barren? It will eventually be a bane and more often than not, it will be neglected. Taking down the tree will cost a bomb if it has grown big and strong. Shall I leave it to the local council to come trim it or chop it down?

In the meantime, the leaves from the tree start littering the road and will eventually get blown to my neighbour’s front. Is my neighbor going to be happy about this? Will I be happy about it if I had to sweep leaves off the front of my house daily, leaves from my neighbour’s tree?

If left unattended, neighbourliness will start getting torn at the seams. The smiles that used to greet you from across the fence every morning turn into a frown. And sooner than later, officers from the local council will come a calling at your gate asking you to remove the tree or face a compound for “illegally” planting on council land.

This unfortunately is the cause of debate among residents over the last few weeks in Subang Jaya. While many may not realise the existence of local bylaws that disallow planting anything on council land, it did not help when the reaction from the local council was confusing. The storm in the cup continued to brew as residents reacted adversely to the statement that they “could no longer plant anything in front or at the back of their property”.

We had a chat with the local council and we found out that the council had always encouraged residents to put their green fingers to good use but within limits. Planting at the front of the house is tolerated as it does without a doubt beautify and green the landscape along residential roads. But this has to be within a manageable level. When it goes out of control, this is when conflicts ignite and eventually the council has to step in with a big stick to enforce the bylaws to keep peace in the neighbourhood.

What about planting along the back lanes of our houses? Back lanes serve as fire breakers between houses and are also the access point for emergency services. If and when a fire breaks out, firemen need a path to rush through without obstructions. Having pots of plants, planter boxes and even clothes drying racks or lines in the back lane is a No No. In the numerous anti-dengue gotong-royong initiatives that have been carried out in different neighbourhoods, volunteers have found mosquito larvae breeding in the pots, planting bags, discarded electrical items and even pots and pans left along the back lanes.

While it makes sense that we are utilising space that’s available to grow our greens in the back lane, the plants more often than not become neglected over time and become a prime breeding ground for Aedes mosquitoes to breed and terrorise the neighbourhood.

The pandemic has “germinated” a huge interest in gardening to utilise the extra time we spend at home. It has also become a bane for some residents who prefer to have just a green lawn in their yard, much less having a neighbor who has a jungle next door.

Let’s think before we plant. Let’s plan our garden or reorganise it to make it not only pleasant to the eyes but also safe for everyone around. If you really cannot resist the urge to plant more, join the existing community gardens in your neighbourhood or apply to start one with the local council. It’s the new normal to planting your own vegetables or fruits right in your neighbourhood.

Spotted a nicely kept garden in your neighbourhood? Send us some photos and provide us the location. Email to [email protected].

Find out more about what’s available for your needs at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SJGardens

Have a good green month ahead.